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Cats in the Cradle, Money, and Family





Between a comment from a reader, hearing the song “Cats in the Cradle” on my way to work, and being a new father, it really got me thinking about what money really means to me.

Here is the comment that was posted a little while back:

When I was growing up, money was very scarce. My father was a workaholic and he has always been traveling away for a bigger paycheck. As far as I remember, I met him for the first time when I was nine in a foreign country where he was running his own business. He always told me that money is the most important thing in life and I need to do everything to make sure I’ll never miss it, etc.

Now that he is nearing retirement, his priorities changed completely, but it is too late to change me though. I got hooked early on and I love personal finance & investing. There is nothing that I enjoy more than planning and working towards my financial freedom :) However, I would not abandon my family for such a long time in order to reach that goal faster.

The comment above got me pondering about how money can really skew whats really important in life. Are all those hours working to build financial wealth worth the time away from the family? Why is it that when financially wealthy people approach retirement, they reflect and wish they spent more time with their family?

Growing up, my father worked at least 100 hrs a week to support the family. The workoholism (word?) must have rubbed off on me because I spend at least 70 hrs a week between full time work and the online venture. This got me thinking about how much time that I will miss watching my child (or children) grow up. What is working so hard for financial wealth worth if you miss the things that give you true value in life. Here’s to another addition to the “pros” side of early retirement.

How many of you had parents who worked too much? Did you turn out to be a workaholic too?

Photo credit: juria yoshikawa





29 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Interesting topic, FT. My father never worked more than 40 hours a week, took long holidays at Xmas and in the summer to spend time with us, and took part in every hairbrained hobby I took up growing up. This despite Ireland’s economy being fairly horrible throughout most of my childhood. He also retired early. My mother’s a teacher who was always at home a lot. Money was usually somewhat tight, but we never noticed much.

    Both inculcated in me a strong cynicism about employers, a sense that high marks and big career aren’t the be-all and end-all (we were all strong students though, even without any pressure – the advantages of a teaching parent!) and a love of their idea of the good things in life (books, homemade food, city life, travel, bad english soap operas, walks by the sea). Neither bought into the “ultimate dignity through silently enduring hard work” thing that’s bandied round from time to time.

    It has pretty much taken in me, although given the north american culture I struggle much more than them with keeping my own job hours and stresses down, which is something I need to address more in the near future.

  2. Thanks Guinness, I always enjoy reader stories. Do you find that the North American work culture is vastly different than the work culture in Ireland?

  3. Yeah, my family/friends at home just boggle when they hear about standard vacation allowances and hours over here – and a defined number of sick days is the one that really makes them fall over! Most of them have better flexitime and work from home and sabbatical arrangements available to them (whether they do corporate or government work). And the time differences and sheer distances, of course, mean business travel and deadlines can be a much more time-consuming process over here. I hire a lot, and find the Irish/British people I interview are much more aggressive about vacation and hour requirements than the natives. But nowhere’s perfect, and Toronto is certainly better than NYC, where I worked for a number of years, in many ways.

    I just noticed I use a lot of brackets.

  4. 4. jay

    My Dad had his own business and would be gone from before we got up until after we went to bed most days when we were kids. I do have a great work ethic, but became a Dad four years ago. Since then my wife became a stay-at-home Mum and we firmly nailed our colours to the ‘family before income’ mast. We are so much happier than when we were both working…
    We don’t get many holidays or get to treat ourselves often, but we are a close family. As a wise man said, can you ever remember anyone saying ‘I wish I spent more time in the office’ on their death-bed??

  5. My mom always worked a lot ( 8 to 7) especially at month end close. The worst part was when a college friend of mine from Japan came to visit us on new years eve, and my mom was still working at 9 PM that day. Even the friend said- wow your mom works like a japanese person.
    My dad travelled somewhat on weekdays, but he was more at home.. My best time was when he had 2 months of vacation in between jobs. I guess when I have kids I would seriously reconsider having one of the parents to be a stay at home one.. ( or maybe recruit the grandparents as babysitters)

  6. Guinness, what is the standard vacation time for employees at your company? Over here we get 10-15 business days.

    jay, thanks for sharing. That’s my point exactly, I never want to look back on life and regret not spending more time with the family.

  7. FT, 10 for entry level/junior people and 15-20 for more experienced folks. No summer hours. But we don’t have an employee manual, you can certainly try to negotiate more.

    I interviewed two Irish guys last week graduating college who wouldn’t come on board for less than 15, and wanted more. They’re being offered 20-25 starting out in Dublin (which may change with the economy cooling off) and of course no limit on sick days. I have a british friend here in TO who negotiated 8 weeks, and have ex-classmates who get 40 vacation days doing what I do for a government entity in Dublin!

  8. 8. PC

    Interesting thought FT. My father never worked for less than 12 hours a day but being the owner of his business, he’s quite flexible. I don’t blame him since most kids in developing Asian country (where I grew up), spend about 12-14 hours studying a day. The competition is immense. We often have to show up in the school before 7 and get home by 6pm for quick dinner before another round of exam prep for 2 to 4 hours.

    Looking back I wonder why I never asked “what for”? Life is about competition and getting ahead. The resource is scarce seemed to be the answer.

    Now that I’m based in Toronto and sometimes have to travel to South Korea or China, I see people working even harder than my parents. The corporate elites work 6am to 10pm, sometimes sleeping under the desk. The new grads get NO vacation in the first year and accumulate one day a year after that. I saw kids spending mass amount of time studying and if they do have spare time, they play online games.

    Now I can easily attribute this to the globalization and poor country working for rich country..etc. Guinness had interesting observation on Brits and Irish, but I wonder how many hours they put in in 18th century right after industry revolution.

    My take is that if you’re based in Toronto, and your working hours more than 45 or 50, you’re a fool. Financial wealth is not the excuse for long hours if your GDP passed $30000 mark.

  9. 9. Nate

    I work in an industry where extensive “crunch time” is pretty much the only way we can ship our products. Things have changed over the years, but there is still a lot of pressure to work at least 60 hours a week and come in on weekends. Doesn’t help when you have a lot of new grads with no family or significant others to go home to. Their social lives revolve around work and they stay late and come in on weekends just to hang out (the fact that our company feeds us when we work overtime doesn’t help).

    Despite everything, I’m quite cynical about overtime and believe that I can just push myself to work more efficiently during regular hours to avoid it. I value my time at home with my fiance and wouldn’t give up my quality of life. Once children are in the picture, I don’t see myself working any more hours. I’ll probably be quite a bit more motivated to work my butt off everyday in order to do as little overtime as possible.

  10. 10. nobleea

    Growing up, my dad worked and my mom stayed at home. He travelled a bit, but was home at normal hours the vast majority of the time.

    Most people would feel worse about ‘losing’ their kids than losing their money. I’ve always maintained that the worst thing in life is to have regrets. While I’m young and have no kids, I can see how in 20 or 30 years, I could regret working too much and not spending all the time I could’ve with my (future) kids. But it’s hard to imagine regretting that you didn’t work 80 hours a week when you were younger.

  11. 11. Steve D

    Remember, you can’t take your wealth and possessions with you when you die and they lower you into the earth; none of can escape that.

    The key is balance in everything you do — work, family and finances. Family should be your number one priority though. If they are, everything will fit into its proper place. Your employers loyalty to you can be measured by a pay period or two, while your families can be forever!

  12. 12. Cavil

    My dad inspired me too. He use to say that he worked twice or even three times as hard as the people with degree. Since he didn’t graduate from college, he was ignored by the officials whenever there was a hike in salary or recruitment process. Hence, he inspired me to study hard and hence has always been the best reason for my motivation. When I close my eyes, I see the pain in his eyes. So, I try to be awake and work hard. He always taught me the importance of money and I also learned from the world. Sometimes, I feel that world is a small place to live if you don’t realize the importance of money however I do believe that money cannot add true value and is not everything. There is life beyond that but money makes it simple. I felt like expressing a lot but I decided to limit myself. Hope I am clear :)

  13. 13. Cow

    My dad definitely did–he was away from home probably 80% of the time growing up. At one point, we were living in Florida, but his offices were in New York and London, and he would fly up for all workweeks and most of the weekends… He missed most family things, including graduations and weddings and all that.

    It’s interesting; since becoming a grandfather (my oldest sister had a child about two years ago) he’s turned around 180 degrees; he tries to get away from work any time he can and spends as much time with his family as he can. I think he also regrets a lot of the time he lost.

    But it’s also important to look at the world he came from. My dad was the first in his family to go to university, which he got to go to by working full-time all the way through school; he also got himself through an MBA program, and worked his way up the corporate ladder to end up at the vice-president level at a major international bank.

    Looking back on all that, do I want that life? No. I think what my dad’s lessons taught me were twofold: first, I learned very important lessons in personal finance, in self-reliance, etc.; I also worked full-time through my undergrad, and currently have no debts other than some small remaining student loans. I emigrated to Canada under my own effort. My dad once said that I’m the only one his teachings wore off on; my siblings are all buried under tens of thousands in credit card debt, etc.

    But second, I also learned about work-life balance. Now, I probably still work too much, but I work in a field where most of it doesn’t require being in the office. Most of my actual work is actually done at my home office (or wherever else), and most of my time in the office is spent managing employees. So I’m usually only in the office 6 hours/day or so, and do the rest of my 4-6 hours/day at home. And it’s flexible timing, so I could schedule it around family events.

    I’ve worked crazy 80h/wk jobs before and I hate it, no matter how good the money is.

  14. 14. Laura

    My Mom was a workaholic and I am far from it. I like to be efficient in the 40 hours that I do work. My husband is the same way. We both have good jobs and are doing well for ourselves. It CAN be done in 40 hours. Our kids (3 & 4) are too important to us to have it any other way!

  15. 15. 07autoaero

    What a timely post ! This exact topic has been on my mind.

    I just came across blog lately and have been reading the great financial posts etc and found a definate lack of discussion on “real life ” and the challenges presented by the 40hr+ work week while growing a young family.

    Please bear with my long and rambling post.

    My dad definately falls into the workaholic category and I was following in his footsteps untill lately.

    Keeping your financial plan on track without sacrificing the relationship with most important people in your life is a daunting challenge.

    Many of the posts seem to be from those without kids or just one young one and I caution you that things may mess with even the best plan.

    I started out the same as many of the contributors…. I have been investing in mutual funds since I was 14 and worked 20-60 hours per week while putting myself through university. At the age of 21 I had a net worth of $30K+ and was set to make my first million by the age of 25.

    Then life happened ….

    I got married …. and paid off my wifes student loan of $10,000. $3000 down on a more reliable car… $5,000 down on our first home

    And then the real expenses kicked in….. 3 kids Our frugal living took a real hit. Even while making frugal decisions on all purchases our monthly expenses increased by 3 to 4 times. 2nd vehicle, bikes toys , pets,family vacations, and outings (It cost us over $100 to go to a movie last week even though we shared the popcorn and drinks)

    I literally burnt myself out for 8 years (working 50+ hrs/wk) trying to get ahead in my jobs and maintain our regular expenses let alone my investment plan.

    Our line of credit became a constant crutch that saved the day while we outgrew homes and needed to move to safer (more expensive)areas of town with better schools.

    At age 33 our net worth was only $50K

    But we achieved what we considered to be neccessary to feel satisfied as a middle income family ie. safe community, good schools , comfortable home and 2 reliable vehicles.

    I was luckily laid off from my good paying job ($80K a year less taxes is way less $ than it seems) and started a business on “my schedule” vs. “the man’s”

    I truly believe that by working smarter not harder you can still get ahead. For the last 4 yrs I have started work at 9:30am after getting my kids to school and am always home to cook supper by 6pm. I never work weekends and attend ~70% of my kids special activities and appointments etc.

    We still have too much bad debt ~$60K but now that we are settled and I feel we can work on getting rid of it.

    Looking back I regret working late and weekends for very little personal benefit.

    I hope to be down to working ~25 hrs per week and 2 months off in the winter very soon.

    The kids are growing up so fast it’s scary.

    My advice ?? Don’t sacrifice your family relationships while your on the million dollar journey …. you can always find another way to make a million but you only have 1 chance to raise your kids the right way.

    Things often have a way of working out though…. In less than 4 yrs our net worth has jumped from $50K to over $500K with both my wife and I working less than 35 hrs /wk. Our cashflow still sucks though… partially because the bad debt.

    I truly don’t think I will ever want to fully retire. My goal is to spend more time living and enjoying life to the fullest now. The 4 hour workweek is a intesting read on a similar philosophy.

    Thanks for reading ….. and good wishes on everyones million dollar journey.

  16. 16. Mrs. Micah

    One of my friends has a dad who spent the first year of her life working in China (they’re not Chinese, he was just there). Very hard for her mom to juggle two young kids and a new baby. But easier than a single mom, who would have to work too.

    Anyway, she feels like he’s always been working and really appreciates that he took such good care of her family and that he seems to feel so much commitment to his workplace…that it’s not “just” a job. But in college she found a father figure professor (really nice guy) and she told me that she really wishes she felt as comfortable with her dad as with her prof…her dad seemed like a stranger.

  17. 17. Telly

    Lots of great stories!

    07autoaero’s story is especially interesting (as a father of 3 children that aren’t newborns or toddlers). Although I’m a pretty lazy employee (never over the 40-hr mark), your story really struck a chord and made me appreciate my current situation a bit more.

    Growing up, my father worked steady afternoons Mon – Sat. but it seemed as though he was always around. Even though he wasn’t home for dinner, in grade school we always came home for lunch and had our biggest meal as a family. During the summer months, my mom, dad, sister and I would head to the beach every single morning around 9 am. My mom would pack a huge cooler to feed us for the day. At 2:30 my dad would leave for work and then around 7 pm, after a full day of fun in the sun, my mom, sister and I would pack up and take the bus home (my mom never worked or even had a drivers license until we were much older). These are some of the fondest childhood memories I have.

    Most people were under the impression that I must have spent little time with my dad since he worked afternoons but my dad made it a point to NEVER work on Sundays (that day was dedicated to family – even as a teen, which was super annoying ;) ) and made the most of the day before he left for work, especially during the summer.

    If spending time with family is truly important, you’ll always make it work. Some of the happiest people I know have very little money. I often wonder how my dad made it work. He never let on that money was tight but rather just said, “You don’t need that” when we asked for everything we saw in the store.

    Ok, gotta go hug my dad. :)

  18. I think you can find a good balance. By focusing on what truly is your money maker and not so much on the things that fill the time between, you can really have the best of both worlds.

    By learning to focus on what truly makes you money, you can push the things that seem important (but really aren’t) to the side and forget about them.

    I get about 20 voice mails a day at my full time job. I only return about 4-5 of them. I’ve never had one of the other 15 call in and complain that I didn’t return their call. I’ve learned to return the calls that truly need to be returned in order to be successful and to forget about the ones that really don’t do anything but eat up my time.

    The same could be said for anything. If you really want to spend more time with your family, put more focus on them. It’s amazing what we can do with a little more prioritizing. It’s the things that waist time that we need to forget about.

  19. 19. Cannon_fodder

    My dad worked shifts at an automotive company and I only saw him on weekends for two weeks and weekends and evenings on the other two weeks (like a ‘normal’ dad). My mom also worked for as long as I can remember.

    I was the first (and still only) one to go to university and I ended up with a career as opposed to a job. Because I didn’t work for a union, like my dad, it seemed to be easier to advance by working harder, producing results and showing the right attitude.

    For the first 13 years of my career, there were only 5 in which I wasn’t alone. Not having a family meant that it was very easy to dive into work more and establish a pattern which has only recently changed now that I’m in my 40′s. I still work smarter and harder than most people in my company. But, I actually leave the laptop home when on vacation and I rarely get bothered with phone calls either.

    Fortunately, I’ve got the most wonderful wife who supports me in whatever I try – right now I travel internationally and it is getting quite hard on both of us being away for weeks at a time. I actually see the silver lining (and I hope she sees it this way, too) – it makes me appreciate her even more. As they say, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’.

    Both of my parents took pride in doing a great job, no matter what it was, so I took that from them. Perhaps they also would have worked longer hours if their career paths would have called for it. So, I would have to say I inherited at least some of that trait from them.

    Unlike my dad, I have attended almost every school/extra curricular activity/event my daughter has had. Some of the best times were when she was young and they had school trips. I took the day off and was one of the parent chaperones. I’m a big kid at heart so it was great to be surrounded by all of that energy and laughter without the cynicism we develop as we get older.

    I also remember fondly taking many vacations (sometimes even if they were only overnight ones in a local hotel) with my daughter after her mother and I split. Just one-on-one time that had both quality and quantity. The last few years have been family vacations (with my wife and her daughter) but this summer we look likely to have another father-daughter vacation. I think it will be quite different because she is much older and we can have grown up discussions now.

    If my ex and I hadn’t split up, it is improbable that I would have taken vacations with my daughter alone. An unanticipated, but very welcome, benefit to the breakup.

    I guess I’m very lucky because I really enjoy just spending time with my wife and my daughter no matter what we do.

  20. 20. Derek

    Consume less, enjoy more.

    D

  21. Thanks again for sharing your stories!

  22. 22. EasyChange

    That is great information about the differences here vs Ireland. It has been all over the map for me. I’ve had jobs that I considered to be generous with 20-25 days off and I had one post where I had to NEGOTIATE to just get the second week off. Can you imagine?

    Anyway, I think that salary/negotiation is a critical part of this whole process.

    As for raising kids and keeping time for family….its true, that is largely up to the employee, but there are also good companies out there who can make this easier for you without punishing you in terms of reduced benefits and/or pay.

    But the really interesting thing was to note the financial impact of having kids. Lots of people love to talk about having a big family…and I totally respect that. But if people are “planner” types like I am, it might make people seriously consider limiting the size of a family to make sure there is a enough money to get everyone what they need. I sure as heck know it was something that I’ve thought about.

  23. 23. Laurie

    I grew up poor with parents who were NOT workaholics. It made me work harder, but I did appreciate spending plenty of time with them and thankfully I am able to spend plenty of time with my 3 boys. I run my own business but I work less than full-time so I have both time and flexibility in my schedule.

  24. 24. Gates VP

    I actually grew up with relatively rich parents (100k+ combined in the 90s) and obviously never really wanted for anything.

    Dad always took time for the kids as he had flexible hours (stock broker paid on commission). We did a trip to Disney World and took two weeks off every year for camping and big family reunions. He coached sports teams for all three kids and all of the school kids loved him.

    But I actually had two dads, my biological father is an engineer whom I visited at least one week/year. He was raised on a farm in central Saskatchewan and came up in relative poverty. He was the first (and only) in his family to get a University degree, but he didn’t get it until he was ~28.

    Between the two of them, I had a real “rich dad / poor dad” scenario (not that fake Kawasaki one). And the truth is, it was never money that ruled their ultimate happiness or the quality of my relationship with them. In fact, it was likely the other way around, their money situation reflected their level of happiness.

    My step-father (the coach), died two years ago at age 53. He was a lifelong smoker and about 60 lbs overweight. He had sufficient life insurance, but money never makes up for lost time. My biological father (the engineer) is 51, does Tai-Chi 4 times / week and lives with his older wife. His most recent job move gave him a crazy salary boost (30-40% for a P.Eng is pretty big). But when you get to that much money, you just start to wish you had more time spend it.

    So my Mom still has the house, my little brother’s in the basement (he just finished high school). She has money in the bank, but she’s only 51 and she’s alone and she doesn’t really know what to do with her time.

    My father’s wife is already retired, but they don’t have enough for retirement if he quits. They’re racing to pay off the mortgage, but she’s over 60 and not in great shape and he’s feeling the clock tick “the other way” b/c he’s worried that he won’t make retirement in time to spend days with his wife. He’s thought about working less, but he’s living in Alberta and he’s a consulting engineer and they still bill by the hour.

    I’ve learned a lot about money from both dads. Not just about the financial world and personal finance, but simply by watching the effect it has on each of them. My sister is working in the Cayman islands, spending days on the beach and tending bar at night. Most people work their whole lives so they can retire on the beach and then end up too fat to enjoy it by the time they get there, she’s there right now.

    Great movie on the subject of Money vs Parenting: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0218967/

    I think it’s enough to say that you’ll want to work less than 70 hours / week to spend quality time with your kids. OTOH, you’ll have a million bucks in the bank and that buys a lot of time. I’m sure that you’ll find a way to avoid workaholicism.

    People on their deathbeds all regret the fact that they didn’t chase or achieve their dreams. Being an active decision-maker is the key.

  25. Gates, you should be the one writing the book! Sounds like an interesting dynamic of having 2 Dads with different money philosophies.

  26. 26. Bullseye

    Neither my wife nor I has worked more than 30 hours per week since our first son was born three years ago (we usually do 24-28 hours each). We made the decision at that time to be home for our kids as much as possible, even though it means a $30-$40k per year income loss. I’m involved in every aspect of my kids lives, that means a lot to me. We spend lots of days at the park, having picnics, going to the library, hiking, pulling kids around in a bike trailer, etc.

    This arrangement is challenging financially, living in the expensive GTA, but we manage okay regardless. Planning for this long beforehand was the key, we never lived ‘up’ to our incomes when we were both full time pre-kids, as we knew it was only temporary.

    If any parent or prospective parent has the ability to reduce their work time to spend more time with their child(ren), I’d highly recommend doing so.

  27. 27. jay

    What a great response and some real heart-warming stories, congratulations on starting such a great conversation. Greetings to all who have responded I feel like we all know each other a little better…. I think we have all concluded that it’s not all about the money, but it’s also not all about turning your back on it. Everything in moderation…. It’s OK to make a buck, it’s better to help bring a future adult into the world that is going to be a net benefit to their peers.

  28. 28. real money

    This is a good discussion. My family came to Canada in 1980 I was four then. Without knowing the language my parents got jobs right away. My mother worked two jobs while my father only worked one, he worked very hard physically. I remember at age 4 telling myself that I will never live this way. I worked hard and saved to become financially independent. I am now 33 my wife and I have one child and we do not woe anyone anything.

    I am now waiting for the housing market to crash so that I can get into rental properties. I know that I am getting off track.

    Make your money when you are young then when you have children you can choose to spend time with those little angels. At age 4 the only thing I wanted was to spend more quality time with my father. I did not need that fancy video game.

  29. I like being a moderate passionate workaholic. :) This comes from someone who considered career as being the most important and wonderful thing on earth. And I couldn’t be more wrong! Putting all your energy into a career will make you lose the zest of life, those precious little moments. As a line in a nice movie (“Into the Wild”) puts it

    “Happiness only real when shared.”

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